‘Islamic’ schools that force African children to beg are behaving unislamically

Posted on April 21, 2008

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Note from Rafik Beekun:

Islam emphasizes honest work in a halal job at all times over begging. The behavior of the “Islamic” school instructors who force children to beg for any reason, least of all to fill their own pockets, is absolutely against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s). Indeed, earning money through a halal trade is vastly preferred over begging. This principle is emphasized in the following hadith (narrated by Anas ibn Malik, in Abu Dawud, hadith no. 1637):

A man of the Ansar came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and begged from him. He (the Prophet) asked, “Have you nothing in your house?” He replied, “Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread (on the ground), and a wooden bowl from which we drink water.” He said, “Bring them to me.” He then brought these articles to him and he (the Prophet) took them in his hands and asked, “Who will buy these?” A man said, “I shall buy them for one dirham.” He said twice or thrice, “Who will offer more than one dirham?” A man said, “I shall buy them for two dirhams.”

He gave these to him and took the two dirhams and, giving them to the Ansari, he said, “Buy food with one of them and hand it to your family, and buy an ax and bring it to me.” He then brought it to him. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said, “Go, gather firewood and sell it, and do not let me see you for a fortnight.” The man went away and gathered firewood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others.

The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) then said, “This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment. Begging is right only for three people: one who is in grinding poverty, one who is seriously in debt, or one who is responsible for compensation and finds it difficult to pay.”

DAKAR, Senegal (AP and CNN) — On the day he decided to run away, 9-year-old Coli awoke on a filthy mat.

Religious students forced to beg for their Quranic teacher ask for change in Dakar, Senegal, in August 2007.

Like a pup, he lay curled against the cold, pressed between dozens of other children sleeping head-to-toe on the concrete floor. His T-shirt was damp with the dew that seeped through the thin walls. The older boys had yanked away the square of cloth he used to protect himself from the draft. He shivered.

It was still dark as he set out for the mouth of a freeway with the other boys, a tribe of 7-, 8- and 9-year-old beggars.

Coli padded barefoot between the stopped cars, his head reaching only halfway up the windows. His scrawny body disappeared under a ragged T-shirt that grazed his knees. He held up an empty tomato paste can as his begging bowl.

There are 1.2 million Colis in the world today, children trafficked to work for the benefit of others. Those who lure them into servitude make $15 billion annually, according to the International Labor Organization.

It’s big business in Senegal. In the capital of Dakar alone, at least 7,600 child beggars work the streets, according to a study released in February by the ILO, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Bank. The children collect an average of 300 African francs a day, just 72 cents, reaping their keepers $2 million a year.

Most of the boys — 90 percent, the study found — are sent out to beg under the cover of Islam, placing the problem at the complicated intersection of greed and tradition. For among the cruelest facts of Coli’s life is that he was not stolen from his family. He was brought to Dakar with their blessing to learn Islam’s holy book.

In the name of religion, Coli spent two hours a day memorizing verses from the Quran and over nine hours begging to pad the pockets of the man he called his teacher.

It was getting dark. Coli had less than half the 72 cents he was told to bring back. He was afraid. He knew what happened to children who failed to meet their daily quotas.

They were stripped and doused in cold water. The older boys picked them up like hammocks by their ankles and wrists. Then the teacher whipped them with an electrical cord until the cord ate their skin.

Coli’s head hurt with hunger. He could already feel the slice of the wire on his back.

He slipped away, losing himself in a tide of honking cars. He had 20 cents in his tomato can.


Video: Can the Practice of Talibe be stopped?

Please click here to view a video on the practice of Islamic school children (‘Talibe’) being forced to beg.


Three years ago, a man wearing a skullcap came to Coli’s village in the neighboring country of Guinea-Bissau and asked for him.

Coli’s parents immediately addressed the man as “Serigne,” a term of respect for Muslim leaders on Africa’s western coast. Many poor villagers believe that giving a Muslim holy man a child to educate will gain an entire family entrance to paradise.

Since the 11th century, families have sent their sons to study at the Quranic schools that flourished on Africa’s western seaboard with the rise of Islam. It is forbidden to charge for an Islamic education, so the students, known as talibe, studied for free with their marabouts, or spiritual teachers. In return, the children worked in the marabout’s fields.

The droughts of the late 1970s and ’80s forced many schools to move to cities, where their income began to revolve around begging. Today, children continue to flock to the cities, as food and work in villages run short.

Not all Quranic boarding schools force their students to beg. But for the most part, what was once an esteemed form of education has degenerated into child trafficking. Nowadays, Quranic instructors net as many children as they can to increase their daily take.

“If you do the math, you’ll find that these people are earning more than a government functionary,” said Souleymane Bachir Diagne, an Islamic scholar at Columbia University. “It’s why the phenomenon is so hard to eradicate.”

Please click here to read the remainder of this article entitled “Boy flees Islamic school that forces African children to beg” from AP and CNN .

Other articles of interest:

1. In Senegal, UNICEF and partners work to end the practice of child begging.

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